An increasing number of parents in India are opting for nucleus cochlear implant systems for their very young deaf children
Each year,over 23 lakh deaf babies are born in India. Sadly,deafness in children is often also associated with not being able to speak. Hence the commonly used words -deaf and dumb,in reality,hearing impaired children do have the capability to learn to speak after birth and babble spontaneously. Subsequently,they stop babbling and do not develop speech,since they are unable to hear themselves and others. Hearing impairment in children often remains undetected,until the child is a few years old.
Hearing loss is not a visible disability and it takes months and in some cases years before family members realise that their child is missing out on the hearing world. While in developed countries,the age of diagnosis is around three months; in India it is around 18-24 months. The first three years of life are critical for normal speech and language development. Early identified children,when fitted with hearing aids/ cochlear implants and imparted speech-language training are able to catch up with their hearing peers and can be successfully mainstreamed into the regular curriculum.
Taking these factors in mind,K E M Hospital,Pune started the neonatal hearing-screening programme in August 2005. All babies born in K E M undergo a simple screening test called Oto Acoustic Emission (OAE),which is completed in less than a minute. Babies with a high degree of suspicion then undergo battery of subjective and objective hearing tests. Those with confirmed hearing loss are then fitted with hearing aids and enrolled for speech- language therapy immediately. The Big Ears clinic,headed by E N T Surgeon Dr Neelam Vaid and her team constantly strives to deliver what Hellen Keller had said- Speech is the birthright of every child.
Says Vaid,Children can learn to speak language only at a young age. As they grow,the neural plasticity of the brain diminishes. When deafness is not detected early and deaf children are not treated early,they do not develop speech. An increasing number of parents in India are opting for nucleus cochlear implant systems for their very young deaf children mainly due to good outcomes and the recommendations of parents of other cochlear implanted children.
So far 7000 babies have been tested in the neonatal hearing-screening programme and children as young as three months have been fitted with hearing aids,their parents guided in providing the child stimulating language enriched environment. Vaid has successfully performed 100 surgeries till date and in Big Ears,there have been more than 50 children implanted with the device.
Big Ears is conducting a free hearing impairment awareness programme on Sunday March 15 between 11am to 2 pm for parents with hearing impaired children.